The Wall – Film Review (2017)
Adam reviews the taut war time thriller The Wall, directed by Doug Liman starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena.
The Wall follows a long line of sniper films and war films. Doug Liman’s newest may eschew them all by stripping down to just the barest of essentials. Running 90 minutes, it is the type of lean cat-and-mouse thriller that’s a throwback without being kitschy. Written by newcomer Dwain Worrell, the film trades bombast and heightened histrionics for tension that is built out of a psychological battle of wills (and wits) between an Iraqi sniper and an American sniper team (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena).
Liman smartly chose to make this a smaller affair. Filming in the high desert of Los Angeles with a fraction of the budget and schedule he’s had in recent years. The results are inspiring. The film pulls true tension out of what is basically a one-location “two-fister”. Liman wrings the most out of the situation, never telegraphing the end game. By smartly casting both Taylor-Johnson and Cena, the film builds in specific expectations and outcomes, that are thrown into contention within the first ten minutes.
Opting to shoot in Super 16 with anamorphic lenses rather than digital allows for a cinematic urgency that would never have been accomplished using an Alexa or RED. The film feels both alien and modern. The decision to film with an outmoded technology as a tool and not some fetishized atheistic leads to a film that is visually unique without sentimentality of some bygone era. Liman also chose to use both a new cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (End of Watch) and a new editor Julia Bloch (Blue Ruin), creating a different feel than Liman’s recent efforts.
After years of big budget filmmaking, Liman seems to be invigorated by returning to his roots. Much like Soderbergh after he found digital filmmaking, Liman’s work is inspired here. Set pieces are not set pieces, rather problems for characters to solve. Though the film makes story points of process (e.g. I need water), it never feels manufactured. Liman and Worrell keep everything feeling genuine and pressing.
By subverting standard war film conventions, The Wall turns the tables on even the most knowing of audiences. One of the delights is watching the Iraqi sniper literally shoot down all options, and by that extension film clichés, leaving our heroes with few if any options. What happens in the film’s final act is a darkly delightful revelation that this reviewer will not ruin. The Wall is one of the surprises of the summer.